Audubon on the Passenger Pigeon

Screen shot 2014-02-23 at 10.12.20 AMMy recent fascination for the passenger pigeon stems from an article I read in the New Yorker about Joel Greenberg’s new book, A Feathered River Across the Sky, the book itself, and the fact that this year marks marks the centennial of the final extinction of a species that once numbered in the billions. Greenberg, in a chapter called A Legacy of Awe, includes ornithologist J. J. Audubon’s 1831 description of a flock preparing to alight:

As soon as the Pigeons discover a sufficiency of food to entice them to alight, they fly around in circles, reviewing the country below. During their evolutions, on such occasions, the dense mass which they form exhibits a beautiful appearance, as it changes its direction, now displaying a glistening sheet of azure, when the backs of the birds come simultaneously into view, and anon, suddenly presenting a mass of rich deep purple. They then pass lower, over the woods, and for a moment are lost among the foliage, but again emerge, and are seen gliding aloft. They now alight, but the next moment, as if suddenly alarmed, they take to wing, producing by the flapping of their wings a noise like the roar of distant thunder, and sweep through the forests to see if danger is near.

That must have been a sight to see.

With compliments,

Keith

Sometimes When You Look for Andy Gibb You Find Abraham Lincoln

Screen shot 2014-02-22 at 9.45.33 AMRecently my wife and  I were at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles looking for Andy Gibb’s grave. (I’m a fan…don’t judge) when we stumbled across a statue and series of mosaics depicting the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln. This took me a bit by surprise primarily because I have lived in this city for most of my life and I had no idea that these existed.

Generally speaking, I would say that these are highly romanticized images of Lincoln in deep meditation or prayer, Lincoln the self-educated, Lincoln the great emancipator, and Lincoln doing presidential stuff like being inaugurated and giving addresses.

I am interested in what you think. We do not get a lot of Lincoln out here on the West Coast…so what are your thoughts on our spin?

 

 

 

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With compliments,Screen shot 2014-02-22 at 9.58.39 AM

Keith

By the way…we payed our respects to Mr. Gibb as well.

Shelby Foote and the North’s Other Arm

Screen shot 2014-02-21 at 9.38.11 AMOne of my favorite quotes from Ken Burns’s epic documentary The Civil War comes from none other that Shelby Foote himself. Yes indeed…America’s most well-known and much revered Civil War… ummmm….. interpreter.

Mr. Foote, like many who take a romanticized view of the gallant Confederates fighting hopelessly against long odds, cast the Confederate bid for independence as doomed from the start. “I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back,” said  Foote. If the Confederacy ever had come close to winning on the battlefield, “the North simply would have brought that other arm out from behind its back. I don’t think the South ever had a chance to win that war.”

This is my favorite quote precisely because it opens the door to so much discussion. Many – both scholars and popular writers alike, seem to think that a great deal of the citizens of the Confederacy were not really all that committed to winning the war. Not committed to establishing an independent slave-holding republic.

But the idea that white southerners were nothing more than a collection of individuals whose allegiance lay with their states and who, by the mid point of the war, were wallowing in defeatism and despair and more than ready to jump ship, obscures the profound connection that most had to the Confederate national state. Independence was foremost on their minds – and a great deal of the citizens of the CSA were willing to endure the greatest hardships to make sure the Rebs won.

So – I am sure you will find Mr. Foote charming, as he sits comfortably is his wrinkled blue shirt before an impressively dusty collection of old books. But he missed his mark by a Confederate mile. Suggesting that the Confederacy never had a chance and everybody knew it is just not correct. Who would fight a war they knew they had no chance of winning? They even had a good example to follow – remember, a loose confederation of colonies once defeated the British Empire to secure their independence. I am pretty sure the Rebs made note of that one.

And trust me…the Union used both hands – they had read some history too.

Nerds Unite!

Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 3.39.06 PMWell, if there is anything more nerdy than a meeting of Star Trek fans and Civil War buffs I don’t know what is.

But if you are seeking that nexus – for whatever reason, allow me to direct you to one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek – featuring none other than President Abraham Lincoln.

It’s great – it really is. With all sorts of lessons for the late 1960s television audience. President Lincoln even refers to Lt. Nyota Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols) as a “charming negress.” Yeah…that sort of makes us cringe today – and it gave the officers of the Enterprise a chuckle. But of course the point was to show the racially charged public of the 1960s – on the heels of church bombings, police dogs, and fire hoses – just how far we will have come in the future…stardate: 2265.

Captain’s log…..kudos. You know what else?  Star Trek was the first program ever to air an interracial kiss – between Captain Kirk and Uhura. That show had stones.

With compliments,

Keith

The Prison Life of Henry A. Allen

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 10.06.13 AMHenry Archibald Allen served as a company grade officer in the Army of Northern Virginia and was captured at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 – the Pickett-Pettigrew assault would be his last action as a soldier.

Allen finished out the war as a prisoner in a number of camps across the North including Johnson’s Island, Pt. Lookout, Fort Pulaski, and Hiton’s Head. He suffered the privations of prison life and was even used as a human shield by his captors. After the war, he returned to Portsmouth, Virginia and eventually became an active member in the Immortal 600, an organization of Confederate veteran officers who had seen time in Yankee prisons.

His letters written to his wife, Sarah while serving as a prisoner of war are revealing in a number of ways. For example, he discusses little about the suffering in camp – the harsh conditions, the death, disease, and filth associated with incarceration. Was he trying to gloss over these things for the sake of easing his wife’s concern? An interesting question that is worth further investigation. He also makes a solid attempt to run his household in absentia. You can really feel his annoyance when it comes to decision making – what his wife should do about certain events and with whom. Finally, he is clearly a Confederate nationalist. Though he misses his wife and children dearly, he refuses to sign a loyalty oath and return to them.

There is a lot we can learn from Allen’s letters. Years ago, I transcribed them all and posted them HERE. Have a look and feel free to weigh in. I can see a potential project here in the near future – and an insights would be welcome.

With compliments,

Keith